Applewhites at Wit’s End – Stephanie S. Tolan

I won Applewhites at Wit’s End as a LibraryThing Member Giveaway – and for that I have to thank them, because I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s yet another YA novel I wish had been around when I belonged to the targeted audience – it would have been an annual read.

Wit’s End is – well, it sounds like heaven, in its way. It is a 16-acre former motor lodge which has been turned into a creative compound reigned over by the massively talented Applewhite clan. Clan in the classic sense: the extended family lives and works here, and the tale of how that came about is apparently told in the first book, which I will have to look for soon. All of the arts are represented here, from sculpture to dance to theatre to literature – and so, when disaster strikes and money is suddenly short, the idea evolves that all this talent should be put to a new use: the complex will be converted into a summer arts camp, and all those fees from the dozens and dozens of kids whose parents will surely send them to take advantage of training by famous artists – surely this will solve all the Applewhite money problems.

It doesn’t quite work out that way – which may be just as well, given the group’s difficulties in handling the six precocious campers who do arrive.

The ensuing mess allows the kids to step up and save the day without the adults being reduced to – quite – morons or absentees. I think my only possible complaint about the book is that it falls into the habit of stereotyping creative folk as impractical and lacking in common sense; the only one of the Applewhites with any sense at all seems to be E.D., who has little or no creativity. The use of the stereotype is regrettable, I think – it seems to support the idea that it’s very rare to be both “artsy” and sensible, and as an art school survivor who looks askance at everyone else’s madness on a daily basis … well, it’s more like just being sensible is rare, actually.

The attractions of the book are many for a kid like I was. As I mentioned, the concept of a self-contained world filled with all sorts of creativity, adults always ready to instruct and guide and encourage whatever ideas would crop up. Room, and company if you wanted it and privacy if you didn’t, animals and the sort of private wilderness Anne Shirley made me crave – it’s wonderful. The practical part of me would have bonded with E.D., who is a lovely character; there’s always a part of me that itches to take charge when things aren’t being done right, just as she has to do. And I loved the fact that there is an element of spite in her, which prompts her to keep a rather important piece of information to herself rather than passing it on to the relief of her father, whose fault the whole mess was. It’s indicative of the tone of the book as a whole – funny, smart, and a tad bit irreverent. And fantastic.

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